Tylenol Leads to Wood Pallet Migraine

This article first appeared in February 2010.

A large recall of Tylenol caused a PR headache for the wood pallet industry in January after drug maker McNeil Consumer Healthcare, a subsidiary of Johnston & Johnston, implicated wood pallets as responsible with a bad odor inside Tylenol bottles.

The problematic chemical is called 2,4,6-tribromoanisole” or TBA. It results from a breakdown of another chemical called “tribromophenol” or TBP, which is used in some countries as a preservative on wooden pallets. Speaking at the Western Pallet Association Annual Meeting in Rancho Las Palmas this January, NWPCA president, Bruce Scholnick, commented that TBP hasn’t been approved for use in the United States or Europe for about 15 years. The chemical, however, is used in South America, which can be a source of lumber for North American pallet makers.

News surrounding the Tylenol recall left several wood pallet manufacturers fielding calls from customers, who were assured that TBP is not applied to pallets manufactured in the United States.

Mr. Scholnick indicated that as of that NWPCA had been in daily contact with Johnston & Johnston as the recall took place in January.

The story was picked up by CNN on January 26, which obtained possession of a letter from NWPCA to Johnston & Johnston. “To the best of our knowledge, wood pallets and containers have never been the source of either TBA or TBP,” it quoted from a letter from NWPCA president Scholnick. “It appears McNeil/Johnson & Johnson has used its immense stature to publicly express highly irresponsible and defamatory statements toward the wood pallet industry.”

“McNeil/Johnson & Johnson’s conduct has damaged the wood pallet industry’s reputation and business relationships,” he added. “More importantly [it] has spread factually unsupported and misleading statements which have needlessly alarmed the public.”

At the WPA Annual Meeting, Scholnick commented that it was “a long journey” from the pallet, through the transport carton, and through the inner box and inside the bottle, and that TBP can be associated with other products such as cardboard.

Industry insiders have speculated that whatever the source, the exposure to TBP took place when the bottles were empty, before they were filled.

The Federal Food and Drug Administration had given McNeil/Johnston & Johnston 15 days to investigate, and its own investigation is ongoing.

Pallet suppliers CHEP and PECO have both gone on record to assure the public that their pallets are not associated with the use of this chemical. To see PECO’s statement, click here.

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